Photo by steven.buss. Some rights reserved.
Despite everything that movies (Blade Runner, Terminator, They Live!, Repo Man, etc.) have taught us about the congested, polluted, dystopic Los Angeles of the then-distant future, the L.A. of today appears to be improving rather than going the other way. A new study released by the NOAA this week shows a whopping 98% decrease in vehicle-related air pollutants ( volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that are most often emitted from tailpipes) in the Los Angeles Basin since the 1960’s, an encouraging plummet despite the fact that L.A. drivers now burn three times the amount of gas and diesel. Carsten Warneke, co-author of the study, attributes this paradox to the fact that “cars are getting cleaner,” specifically regarding more efficient engines, catalytic converters, and the dawn of low emissions vehicles (LEVs). Between 2002 and 2010 alone (when, one might argue, car companies found a vested interest in pushing “greener, cleaner” as a selling point) VOC concentration in the region dropped by half, even as the number of cars on the road increased.
This is good news for Americans living in big cities hoping to turn pollution around, and great news for Los Angeles residents who have been able to see more and more of blue skies and the surrounding mountains thanks to cleaner air (especially since earlier this year it was reported in a study published by the Archives of Internal Medicine that L.A. residents are at an increased risk of stroke just from living there). Yet, this steep drop in VOCs does not correlate directly with a drop in Ozone pollution, which has decreased in the L.A. area since the 1960’s, but at a much gentler rate: levels in the area still do not meet the ozone standards set by the EPA, and in an American Lung Association report on air quality released earlier this year, nine out of the top ten highest ranked cities for ozone pollution fall within the boundaries of greater Los Angeles. According to Warneke, the number of days that had unhealthy ozone levels has dropped from 200 to 100 annually, as of this year, which is encouraging. As long as trends continue in these directions, we just may be able to put a more positive spin on the future in the City of Angels.
You can monitor current air quality conditions in Los Angeles through the AQMD here, updated hourly.
Photo by Thomas Locke Hobbs. Some rights reserved.
Earlier today, a U.S. Senate panel approved a $31.6 billion federal budget for energy and water related programs, and though the panel was led by Democrats, the final total ended up being roughly $5 billion less than the amount originally requested by President Obama, as a means of lowering the federal deficit.
While this is certainly not devastating news for environmental advocates, there was some additional salt thrown in the wound today, as President Obama also announced today in an official statement that he would be shelving a major EPA regulation that would have drastically tightened smog standards in the US. The rule had already come under scrutiny by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who singled it out as one of 10 regulations recommended for elimination. The official withdrawal of said rule comes after the Obama White House, at the behest of John Boehner, listed seven of the costliest EPA related rules in planning stages, each estimated to cost over $1 billion or more to implement. The ozone/smog rule was estimated at between $19 and $90 billion, the costliest of the seven.
Boehner called the elimination of the ozone rule a “good first step” in cutting down government spending in 2012, but many environmental groups, and even the American Lung Institute, have already voiced their concerns, with the ALI even vowing to take legal action if the measure is permanently erased.
D.C. Circuit Court. Photo by Ken Lund. Some rights reserved.
Seattle-based Marten Law walks us through the EPA’s recent headbutt with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), as the agency tried to defend its actions with regards to Section 185 of the Clean Air Act (CAA). The struggle ended July 1, 2011, when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a Section 185 guidance document that the EPA has previously relied on.
The EPA is required by the CAA to establish national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for various pollutants, and to impose deadlines and/or fees on areas that fail to comply. Section 185 (42 U.S.C. § 7511d) addresses ozone nonattainment areas that are classified as “severe” or “extreme,” and the specific enforcement to be levied against the major stationary sources of the offending pollutants in those areas.
When the NAAQS were overhauled in 2004, many areas that were previously classified as “severe” or “extreme” in their nonattainment now only classified as “marginal” or “moderate.” The CAA’s “anti-backsliding” provision (42 U.S.C. § 7502(e)) prevented these areas from getting off the hook completely, but enforcement procedures in these cases were now a bit murky. In order to address the confusion, the EPA issued “Guidance on Developing Fee Programs Required by Clean Air Act Section 185 for the 1-hour Ozone NAAQS,” a document that ostensibly gave states the authorization to implement “alternative programs” in certain nonattainment areas, rather than the usual fee programs mandated by Section 185.
But this didn’t fly with NRDC or the D.C. Circuit. NRDC filed suit, and the Court subsequently found that the EPA violated the Administrative Procedure Act by issuing the guidance without following notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures. Is this becoming a trend? If so, it’s one that will likely not be tolerated. Marten Law concludes that the “EPA has, in recent years, tended to favor the use of interpretive guidance where it can, as the rulemaking process is typically long and arduous. No matter, the D.C. Circuit has joined other courts in holding that guidance is not a substitute for rulemaking.”